11th January - Burning the Clavie

Written by Anne Newman 7th January 2020 updated 2023

On the 11th January every year the ancient Scottish custom of Burning the Clavie takes place in Burghead, a small fishing village on the Moray Firth. This started in the 1750s, as this was when the Julian calendar changed over to the Gregorian calendar in 1752. Whilst the rest of the UK rioted and demanded back their 11 days, the town of Burghead decided to celebrate New Year’s on both the 1st and the 11th of January, getting the best of both worlds.

The Clavie is a half barrel filled with wood shavings and tar, nailed onto a carrying post with the same huge nail each year. This barrel is then lit and carried on the shoulders of a villager, a prized position handed down through the family,

The Barrel is carried through the village, followed by a large crowd. They stop at each house to present them with a smouldering ember from the barrel to bring the household good luck for the year ahead. The procession travels on towards Doorie Hill, the headland upon which stands the ruin of an altar. Here, it joins a bonfire built up of split casks and as the burning barrel falls to pieces, the villagers collect the fallen glowing bits to kindle the New Year’s fire on their cottage hearths and bring them luck.